UN admits it was caught off-guard in South Sudan
Friday December 27 2013
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) was unprepared for the explosion of violence that has rocked the country in the past two weeks, the top UN official in Juba said on Thursday.
“No, we did not see this coming,” Unmiss head Hilde Johnson said in a video press conference with reporters at UN headquarters in New York.
“I don’t think any South Sudanese nor any of us observers in country or outside expected the unravelling of the stability so quickly,” she added.
“We knew ethnic tensions have unfortunately a great potential to be destabilising in this country. But the speed, the gravity and the scale, I think nobody would have expected.”
Ms Johnson noted that 10 days prior to the outbreak of fighting, some 800 international business executives had gathered in Juba for an investment conference.
“It was one of the biggest conferences in the region, with enthusiastic support, and a lot of investment deals were signed,” Ms Johnson said.
Unmiss was aware of “internal challenges and tensions within the SPLM,” she said, referring to the ruling party in South Sudan.
The violence should not be characterised as an ethnic conflict, Ms Johnson insisted. She described it instead as “a political struggle between two leaders” that includes “multi-ethnic representation on both sides.”
South Sudan can still be put on a path to peace and development, Ms Johnson suggested, pointing to the example of Timor-Letse, a Southeast Asian country that won its independence 10 years ago.
“A similar crisis erupted in the country” in 2006 involving factions of the army, she recalled.
“And we have seen East Timor, Timor-Leste, coming out of that crisis in a very solid way and now be seen as one of the good performers, internationally, among the fragile states,” Ms Johnson said.
“I think that is a sign that even though you can have major setbacks like these it is also possible to get back on track and to move in the right direction.”